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What I saw at the border and what I hope Biden understands when he visits this week

OpinionWhat I saw at the border and what I hope Biden understands when he visits this week

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There are three walls in the area around McAllen, Texas. Colloquially, they are referred to as “the George W. Bush wall,” “the Donald Trump wall” and the “Greg Abbott wall.” Like so much of what happens at our southern border, the walls make little sense. 

For one thing, both sides of the wall, in all three cases, are United States land. In other words, if you’re a migrant, and you’ve reached the wall, you’re already on American soil. 

For another, the walls are all incomplete, with gaps that make them easy to breach. You can simply follow the wall, see where it ends and walk around it. 

Joe Biden, Border wall

President Biden and migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. (Getty Images)

I didn’t know any of this when I landed in McAllen, Texas, a few days ago. A safe, bustling city, McAllen sits in the Rio Grande Valley on the American border with Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of migrants come through the city each year. 

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I was invited on this trip to the border by Americans for Prosperity, “a libertarian conservative political advocacy group.” I have no affiliation with this group other than joining them on this trip. “Is this… a pro-open borders trip?” conservative friends half-joked. 

Despite being founded during the “Tea Party” era, AFP has a reputation for having a softer stance on immigration than most groups in the conservative world. As my own opinions on immigration policies are fairly stringent, I was actually interested to hear the argument for open borders, one that even the left has stopped making.

But that didn’t happen. If AFP had been somewhat lenient on illegal immigration in the past, it didn’t come through during this trip at all. The speakers all stressed the severe problems that are caused by allowing masses of unvetted people to enter the country unchecked. 

CHINESE MIGRANTS ECLIPSE MEXICAN NATIONALS IN KEY SOUTHERN BORDER SECTOR

We learned that during the Obama administration his Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, had proclaimed it a real problem when 1,000 people crossed every day and that 3,000 would be a crisis. Yuma Sector’s Retired Chief Border Patrol Agent Chris T. Clem told the group “now those numbers would be a vacation for us.”

They brought in Chalmers Carr, a farmer and owner of Titan Farms in South Carolina. “Oh here we go,” I thought to myself. I imagined Mr. Carr would be making an argument that he needed these illegal immigrants to work his farm. I was wrong. In fact, Carr does not employ any seasonal workers who don’t have a specific work visa. 

Migrants in Texas

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Carr said the migrants entering illegally largely don’t want to work in agriculture anymore. He told us about the Biden administration assault on the H-2 visa process that allows Carr to legally hire seasonal workers from other countries. 

In a nod to labor groups, the Biden administration has made the process of hiring workers extremely difficult and expensive. They’ve raised the fees on these visas to offset the funding of asylum cases.

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I spoke with Chief Clem after the trip and asked him what Americans need to most understand about the border. He stressed, “We’re letting in everybody who crosses into the country and many of them don’t meet basic tenets for asylum.” 

He told me that the old system would weed out people who very obviously didn’t have a reasonable case but DHS policy now is to give every single person an asylum hearing before a judge. That can sometimes take years and since we don’t have the capacity to hold people, we’re letting people out into the country and hoping they come back for their court date. It’s unsustainable. 

Clem told me if the people crossing the border “saw a judge within 7-14 days after detainment, that would go a long way toward fixing the problems and would be consistent with the way the system is designed.” Most would be found ineligible for asylum and it would act as a “deterrent to people making the dangerous journey with cartels.” 

A few days before I arrived at the border, Axios reported, “Biden has considered an executive order that would dramatically stanch the record flow of migrants into the Southwest. This could even happen in the two weeks before the address, allowing Biden to say he took action while Republicans just talk.”

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The fact that an executive order was possible the whole time to fix this issue, but Biden has been waiting for the most politically opportune moment while the country buckles under this problem, is unacceptable. It is not pro-immigrant to allow people into our country unchecked. We have strained every resource and Biden could end it all with a pen stroke. 

My border trip ended with a visit to Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center. An old bar had been repurposed as a mini pharmacy for toiletries and other goods. Signs in English, Spanish and Russian instructed that no medicine could be prescribed here. 

On mats on the floor, adults lounged, scrolling on their phones while a dance troop entertained the kids in another room. The migrants stay here 24-48 hours before their families arrange passage for them. If they don’t have family in the United States, they are assisted by other non-governmental agencies.

Perhaps this was the part of the trip meant to pull at the heartstrings but it served as a reminder that if you break the law to come into the United States, there will be a network there to assist you in your journey. For a refugee like me, whose family came to this country legally and with great difficulty, it’s galling to see people so blatantly disregard our laws and be rewarded with easy passage. 

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On my flight home, there were a few obvious migrant families and several Haitian single men. The men were very well-dressed, in designer clothing and sneakers. Where were they going and what will they be doing? How have we allowed a system that does not specifically answer this question?

In December and January, U.S. Customs and Border Protections had 478,188 encounters at our southern border. Much of the media sells us an image of food delivery men and agriculture workers coming here to do the jobs Americans won’t. Nearly half a million people in two months couldn’t all have become Uber Eats delivery drivers. It turns out they are not working in agriculture. How is this mass of people being absorbed into American life? 

A story last week about the northern border, and how it’s growing as a crossing point for migrants who have discovered it’s even easier to get in from Canada than Mexico, contained this tidbit from a resident of a small Vermont town being impacted:

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“The Border Patrol actually told us, ‘You guys might want to put a pistol in your backpack’ because nine out of 10 of them are just here for a better life, but there’s that one guy that’s got a rap sheet.” 

The CPB puts the total of nationwide encounters for 2023 at 3,201,144. Someone ask the Biden administration to do the math.

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